thunder rock 100 – close, but no buckle

87 mile belt buckle
13 miles short of a 100 mile buckle – better luck next time

It’s been a week since my first 100 attempt. Things didn’t exactly work out as planned, but I hear that’s to be expected in hundred mile races. I still had a great experience though. Pulling out with a bum knee at mile 87 turns out isn’t too horrible. I got most of the miles in, mentally I was relaxed the whole time, and I know the distance is within reach. Next time I’ll be a little more prepared for the verticals. In some regards it was easier then expected. Once I got into a relaxed rhythm and cruising pace, it felt like I could go on forever. Sure there was pain and low points, it just wasn’t as tough as expected. Going with no specific time goal in mind probably helped in that regard.


ocoee white water center
ocoee white water center – right before the pre race thunder shower

Thunder rock 100 is a beautiful course with varying terrain crossing two major rivers in the Cherokee National Forest. It has everything from technical single track to gravel roads. There was also a section of asphalt that my legs and feet don’t want to talk about. I was surprised over how much was runnable, especially on the night section with gravel and jeep roads. But the 17,000 feet of elevation balances it out so it’s not too easy.

There was sporadic thunder showers(and hail!) early in the first day, then a steady drizzle later on the second day. This caused some muddy conditions on sections of the trail, but overall the rain and mud wasn’t too bad. The night got pretty chilly, down into the mid 30’s up on Starr Mountain, but I packed enough layers to cope with it.We crossed the Hiwassee river at about the 80 mile mark. I was not looking forward to this during the night, but turns out it was more refreshing than painful. My legs thanked the cold water.

dnf details

I’ve felt miserable in plenty of races, but managed to tough it out. Dropping out has never been an option, until this race. My left knee started really tweaking after the river crossing and 4 mile climb. It had been acting up earlier from all the verticals. I was surprised by how little flat sections there were through the course. Up and down, up and down. By mile 80 my knee was a mess of shooting, knife stabbing pain and I was left limping into the 87 mile aid station.

I was taken good care of and got warmed up. The crew were so genuinely concerned and helpful they even got me into a heated truck to warm up. I knew once in the truck it would be tempting to drop, so there was some hesitation. Mentally I felt strong still, and the thought of dropping was weighing heavy. I didn’t want to regret pulling out later, so I decided to leave the aid station to test the waters. I could always backtrack if things weren’t working out.

I set off down a hill. I tried jogging. That wasn’t happening. I tried walking. Nope. Still painful. I had to favor my right leg and stiffen up the left. It was a slow going limp. I had enough time on the clock to limp it in, but was not keen on the thought of limping on a bum knee for 4 hours.

So, it came down to dropping out, or gut it out. I’m not in need of macho points, and I know there will be other races, so the decision was clear at this stage. If I were a little closer to the finish things would have been different. But I wasn’t. I let it go and turned around. The aid station chief patted me on the back and for the first time in 25 hours I almost choked up. My fist DNF was official. No buckle for you kid.

I wanted nothing but to complete the race and get my first buckle, but not if it meant being unable to run for a month afterwards. I’ve leaned to listen to my body, I know the difference between fatigue and injury pain. And when something tweaks I pay attention. I want to be able to run soon.

A week later and I know I made the right decision. The knee still hurts a little, but it’s quickly mending.Who knows how long recovery would have taken if I had stressed my knee more.

things that went right

I was mentally prepared. Although kind of freaked the whole week leading up to it, by the time we started I was very relaxed and calm.
Drop bags
I planned the bag contents well, and didn’t need to leave obnoxiously big bags like some people. I mean, 10 gallon bags is just ridiculous.
I ate often and consistently. My pace was lax so a gel every hour plus whatever I felt like eating at the aid stations was ample. A couple of stations had so much yummy stuff I actually probably over ate a little.
No stomach issues, no nausea. This partly due to slow pace and partly due to chillier weather.
I feel the pacing was just about right. The goal was just to finish, so I never pushed hard at any point. The first half I was consciously holding back knowing I needed something for the last half. At some point, perhaps around the 60 mile mark it was just a matter of staying upright and moving forward. I resorted to walking more at that point, but was still moving at less than 20 minute miles.

Through the night
was particularly keen on this experience. Seeing dawn break after 18 hours of running was nice, although at that
particular time I was on a low point mentally. The lights from the town of Etowah were visible from the mountain. I switched my light off a few times when alone just to take in the night. At one point a screeching barn owl jolted me from my running trance.Helpful tips
Runners are always handing out good free advice. This race’s nugget: Put your electrolyte pills in a Tic-Tac container. I’ll give it a shot on my next long run.

things to do differently

I ran the whole race in my New Balance 110s, my favorite shoe. It has a rock plate but is pretty minimal for a race of this distance. Several people pointed this out as being folly, and perhaps they are right. Looking around it seemed I was the only person stupid enough to run 100 miles on a wafer thin sole. A Hoka or maximalist type shoe for the last half makes total sense. I just never got around to purchasing a pair for this race. This might have contributed to my DNF, a cushioned shoe might have helped me not trash my quads.
Blisters were an issue as expected. My feet were wet for a long time from the rain, puddles and mud. I tended to my feet as well as I could, changing socks and taping. I’ve been using cheap socks for all my runs and have gotten away with it. Perhaps it’s time to try out some better non blister type ones. Maybe some higher socks as well to protect from the brush and chiggers. A week after the race and I have chigger rashes all over my legs. Ugh. (vinegar helps)Training
As usual I didn’t get in enough volume and specific terrain training. I visited the course once for a hike. The longest run I did two months prior was 26 miles. I had no back to back days. I knew going in I was under trained and was a little apprehensive. Turns out with good reason. My quads got smashed over the night and it caused my DNF. Live and learn. Well, I hope.

look ahead

This race will be a do-over next year for sure. I can’t leave this unfinished. Also, I may be looking around for another 100 before that time. A whole year seems like a long time to wait. My fall is booked with other races, so not sure where to fit a hundo in though. We’ll see.